What I did on my almost summer vacation

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AGMA goes to France!

I know I promised last week, but it’s just so difficult to distill 15 days worth of sights, sounds, tastes and experiences into just 35 photos.  But honestly…that’s probably the maximum number of pictures of somebody else’s vacation that anybody really wants to view.

I know, right?

The “tile” organization of the pictures kind of distorts them – yuck and sorry…  You can hover over each picture if you want to read the compelling caption on each one.

As promised, “AGMA goes to France” in pictures:

 

 

 

 

 

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The Chateau de Villandry in the Loire Valley that is world famous for its gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The back of our car at the end of 2400 miles around France. It’s kind of a good thing our friends luggage never caught up with us, but they were reunited with it in Paris before they flew back to the US.

Speaking of travel, for heavens sake, if you haven’t already, subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights!

We just booked another trip last night for September on British Airways, $290 round trip Atlanta to Paris.

Wow!!

We promptly cancelled it this morning to get a full refund (even non-refundable fares are refundable within the first 24 hours).

AGMA hated to do that!

But we need to let our waistlines and bank accounts recover for a bit before heading out again.

Sometimes being practical sucks.

 

Peek-a-boo 2

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In the wee hours of Wednesday, May 22nd (2:00 AM to be exact) AGMA crawled into her own bed.  The day started out 26 hours earlier in Paris.

Yikes.

But hey, I slept 3 hours on the plane to Chicago so I hadn’t entered the realm of total zombie yet.

When I booked our tickets ($392 R/T each courtesy of Scotts Cheap Flights) in February, a 9 hour layover in Chicago sounded like a good idea.  We would go visit the grands for a few hours!

We did have a lovely visit, but when we touched down in Atlanta at 12:30 AM on the 22nd, AGMA was questioning her decision making competency.

But what the heck, it’s only sleep right?  Plenty of time to catch up after the Grim Reaper comes to call…

France was awesome!

So AGMA’s peek-a-booing above from the Chateau Fontainebleau which is about 55 km south east of central Paris.  Often called the forgotten palace because it’s sort of off of the regular tourist track, it’s the only royal residence that has housed French rulers for 8 centuries.

Impressive.

And it was.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Napoleon I (short dude with the big hat and an ego to match) called it home for 6 years (1808 – 1814) until he had to abdicate.

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No shortage of self-esteem here.  When I look at this picture of the “Emperor” Napoleon, I keep thinking Don the Con must be sooooo jealous….

Lessons learned or that should have been learned (not necessarily by AGMA or Hubs) on our 15 day trip to France:

  1. If you travel with other people, make sure they are relatively easy going.  K & D, our friends from Missouri, joined us on our grand tour of France.  Unfortunately, they checked their luggage at their home airport on May 5th and then didn’t see it again until it was time to leave France on May 21st.  Despite having no luggage for the ENTIRE TRIP, they had a lovely time.
  2. Never – I repeat – NEVER put your CPAP machine (or any necessary medical device or medicine) in your checked luggage.  Always put it in a carry on and carry it onto the plane.  Your checked luggage may decide to go on it’s own tour of the country you’re visiting and you may not see it again until you’re ready to leave.
  3. Because your luggage may have its own travel plans, always, always, always pack a change of clothes/underwear, basic toiletries and another pair of shoes in your backpack if you check your bag.  Hubs and I already do this due to a missing suitcase in Barcelona several years back, but this trip really drove that point home.
  4. When trying to track down your missing luggage, be proactive.  Very proactive.  Trusting that the airline and the delivery company are going to do what they say they will do is a sweet notion, but not really an effective way to get your luggage back.  Call the airlines several times a day to follow-up on the delivery plan.
  5. Always rent the smallest possible car that will fit all of your “stuff”.  Because there were 4 of us plus our luggage, two overstuffed backpacks, a duffle bag, 2 regular backpacks and an electric scooter, we rented a large car which made for some interesting, let’s just call them, “situations” on the narrow streets/roads in France.  Like trying to put Dolly Parton in a 32A bra.
  6. Unless you pay a fee to them, if you travel with other people who have done all the trip planning, arrangements, research before hand out of the goodness of their hearts, this does not mean they are your tour guide or that they are responsible for your good time. Take responsibility for doing your own research about the areas you are going to visit before hand.  Please. Please. Please.
  7. If you are unwilling to use technology (ie, your cell phone, tablet or laptop) or travel books to research restaurants in the area that you might want to go to, don’t complain about the restaurants that others choose.  And for the love of God, please understand that you will not get the same food you get at home. And when you order a coffee in France, you won’t get the same thing as when you order a coffee in the US.  Thankfully.
  8. AirB&B’s are NOT hotels.  Nobody makes your bed during the day.  If you want it made, you need to do it yourself.  And sometimes the pillows are a bit flat.  And you have to wash the dishes you use and put them away.  Kinda like you do at home.
  9. Not everybody in France understands or speaks English.  Duh…
  10. You never really know anybody, I mean really know them, until you travel with them.  Seriously.

You might guess that there are some stories associated with some of the points above.  Well, of course there are…

But AGMA is not a tell-all kinda girl.  Although I sort of did tell all, didn’t I?

For me, the sights were magnificent, the food incredible, the wine superb and the coffee just plain yummy.  Our AirB&B’s were great as were our two chambers d’hôte (traditional B&B’s) and our three hotels.

We dined in a cave in the Loire Valley, saw Van Gogh projected on the walls of a quarry in Provence, visited a village destroyed by the Nazi’s in WWII that has been left untouched for over 70 years near Limoges, toured a B&B host’s vineyard in the Languedoc, ate foil gras in the Dordogne, scampered around a glacier in the Alps, sampled champagne in the winemakers home.

Pictures soon.

 

 

 

 

Loose end tied

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AGMA and Hubs got back from our two week trip to Belgium and France (and a couple other places) less than 48 hours ago. And we’re leaving early tomorrow for Nashville.

I’m not even unpacked.

But that’s okay, we’re driving. I can throw all my crap into a trash bag if need be. Except my dress for the wedding we’re going to on Saturday. AGMA hates wearing dresses…

But that’s another post.

So no time for a ‘real’ post today. Just kinda checking in with everybody to say AGMA is still a force for the universe to reckon with.

I promise I’ll post a trip report next week when I’m stationary.

But I do want to share what we did on our last full day of our trip. And I promise my trip report won’t be backwards (although that is an interesting idea…)

It was a fulfillment of a promise I made last October right here on AGMA. Here’s the post, No blinking .

And you know how these things sometimes (most of the time) don’t work out when you’re planning 6 months ahead. But this time it did.

And I’m so glad it did.

We made it to Avize and to the Le Burn Severnay champagne house. And we tasted Patrick’s delicious champages. And they were wonderful.

But why yak when pictures can say it so much better?

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This isn’t Avize, but I just wanted to give you a sense of what the Champagne region looks like.  Because it was early spring, the vines weren’t leafed out.  But it was still stunning.

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The Le Brun Severnay champagne house on the Avize town square.  Avize is in the Cote des Blanc area of Champagne.  Most champagnes from Cote de Blanc are 100% Chardonnay.

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This shelf was in one corner of the tasting room.  Of course nosey AGMA found it…  Turns out Patrick was a marathon runner!

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Patrick’s words (French words) about his vintage 2006 100% Chardonnay champagne that won honors from the wine gurus in France.  I think he’s basically saying “Try it, you’ll like it!”

 

 

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AGMA’s toast to Patrick (drinking his delicious rose champagne!)  I hoped, but didn’t honestly didn’t think we could manage to do this when I wrote my post in October.  So glad I was wrong!

Helen, the assistant in the tasting room, didn’t mention Patrick at all during our tasting.  Until afterward when I told her about our cancelled visit in September.  And then it all came pouring out…

Listening to her only confirmed the sense that I had that he was a pretty amazing guy.  “He was my boss,” she said “and I am passionate about this champagne because he was so passionate about it.” (with a very cool French accent)  Her tribute to him was incredibly touching.

We brought home two bottles of Le Brun Servenay.  Not nearly enough.

Maybe another visit is in order??

Here’s to you Patrick, and the reminder to be passionate about life.  And not to take life for granted.  And to live the sh*t out of every single day!

 

 

 

 

No blinking

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Tresors de Champagne : la Boutique.  This was a lovely tasting room in Reims featuring local producers.

OMG…

Isn’t she done yammering about her trip to France??

Yeah – I can hear you out there… And no, I’m not done.

One more post.  And it may not be what you expect.

AGMA loved every town/chateau/winery we visited on our trip, but I was REALLY looking forward to our next to the last stop.

Reims. Champagne central. Bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles.

AGMA’s promised land!

I’ve been wanted to visit the champagne region ever since I found out there was such a thing as champagne. Probably even before. I’m pretty sure my mom drank champagne when she was pregnant with me.  Or Schlitz.

Hey – it was the 50’s and they did stuff like that back then.

The champagne region did not disappoint.  It was as fan-tabulous as AGMA had hoped. Glasses of the mystical, mahvelous, bubbly elixer were as inexpensive as a regular ol’ glass of wine and were sold EVERYWHERE! A bottle of non-vintage champagne – good champagne from small local producers – was between 15 to 25 Euros.  On our one full day there, I had 8 – count ‘em – 8 glasses.  Yeah – that’s right.

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Be still my beating heart!

AGMA was home!

The champagne vineyards were beautiful – there was a tinge of fall on the grape vines.  And the Reims Cathedral was spectacular. Of the “Big 3” medieval cathedrals in France (Notre Dame, Chartres and Reims), Reims wins the prize. It was a marvel.

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The spectacular Reims Cathedral built between 1211 and 1345

Yet despite the beauty of the area and the wonderful, delectable, delicious champagne, our enjoyment was tempered with sadness.

We booked an AirB&B studio apartment in Reims only a few blocks from the Catherdral. When you book an entire flat, you rarely meet the owner. They usually have a lockbox that gives guests access to the keys. I messaged our host about a week before we were supposed to arrive to get the skinny on the check in process. And from the AirB&B reviews, I also knew that Patrick, our host, owned his own champagne house – the PERFECT host right? – and wanted to know if we could visit his cellars and do a “tasting”.

Patrick sent me a lovely message with incredibly detailed instructions regarding access to the flat. He said that he was going to be traveling during our visit and regretted not being able to meet us especially since his wife “knows Georgia and loves it so much.” However, we were more than welcome to email his staff to set up a time to visit and taste.

Delightful!

Then on Wednesday, two days before our visit to Reims, I received a message from Patrick’s wife.

It was short and stunning.

She said, “Hello I’m Patrick’s wife. Just to tell you that you can’t come to the cellar this weekend. I’ve lost my husband on Monday so there will be no tasting or anything else. But no problem with the flat.”

I stared at my phone in disbelief. She couldn’t mean what I think she means…

She did.

Patrick died on Monday, three days after sending me that lovely message.

According to some articles I found on the Internet, he was working of a piece of agricultural equipment used in his vineyard when something went terribly wrong. A bucket dropped, hit him in the head and killed him.

He was 55 years old.

When Patrick awakened that Monday morning, I’m sure his whole week was planned.  His whole year was probably planned.  He was a successful champagne producer and had some business to take care of, but first on his list that Monday was working on some of the grape harvesting machinery.  Clearly, he wasn’t above getting his hands dirty with the day to day operations of his business.

He was a leader in the champagne producing community being the past president (at a very young age) of one of their important producer associations. His champagne house was a family affair and he was mentoring his son into the business.

He bought the flat in Reims to try out this AirB&B thing and it was doing pretty well.  It had good reviews and was rented for the weekend to a couple from Georgia. But he wasn’t going to be able to meet them because he was going out of town with his wife.

In the blink of an eye, that all changed.

His business cards were in the flat along with an order form for champagne from his champagne house, Le Brun-Servenay in Avize. I felt sad every time I looked at them.

I never met Patrick. I only messaged back and forth with him via AirB&B. But though that and reading about him on the Internet via Chrome’s translation function, it seemed like he was an lovely, gifted man, devoted to his profession and family. Somebody I’d like to hang out with and have of glass of his champagne with. Maybe a couple glasses.

Definitely.

So AGMA has decided.  I’ll be going back to Reims and the champagne region in the not too distant future.

And I’ll be traveling down to Avize in the “Cote Des Blancs” to visit the Le Brun-Servenay Champagne House for a tasting. And will probably buy a bottle or two. Or three.

I’ll raise a glass to Patrick, who reminds me to live and love fully in the present moment, and to never take even one minute of living and breathing for granted.

Live big. Live large. Drink champagne. Often.

Because it can all change in the blink of an eye.

Patrick

Patrick Le Brun in his vineyards

Salamanders and sips

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In Chateau d’Amboise

AGMA’s so on top of things.

I’ve been back from my trip over 2 weeks and I’m just now getting around to writing about the last week and a half of our adventure.

Top notch travel blogger here.

Our last 10 days in France can be summed up as a festival of the nectar of Vitis vinifera.

And Francis I.

AGMA can’t say I’d ever heard of Francis I (1494-1547) before last month, but if you go into any of the grand chateaus in the Loire Valley, you’ll see his salamanders everywhere.

Yeah. Salamanders. With little crowns.

WTF??

Francis I was the first king of France with absolute power, and ruled from 1515 to 1547. And everybody knows every king with absolute power needs a symbol he can slather all over his castles just in case people don’t know they belong to him.

Evidently back in the day, folks thought salamanders were magical creatures able to live in and use fire for their own purposes. They were a symbol of power, mystery and purity. I guess Francis liked that ‘cause all the chateaus we visited were dripping with salamanders.

With little crowns.

Not having Instagram or Twitter back then – they were sooooo lucky – Francis I had to travel around France with his entourage giving folks some face time so everybody knew that he was THE king.

It’s good to be the king.

He seemed to have spent an inordinate amount of time in the Loire Valley. But of course it was the Beverly Hills 90210 of the time. It was the epicenter of chic where all of the beautiful and powerful people in France hung out.

Paris was so 1400’s…

We visited 7 chateau’s in the Loire – Chenonceau, Gaillard, Amboise, du Close Luce, d’Azay-le-Rideau, Blois, and the grand Chambord. Easy for me to say. They were all either built by Francis or “borrowed” by Francis.

Like I said, it’s good to be the king.

Good Lord, AGMA can’t clean our townhouse. Chambord alone would have done me in…

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Honey, can you grab the vacuum cleaner and a mop?

Aside from the yugely biggly chateaus, there was wine in the Loire. Lots of wine. While not as famous as Bordeaux and Burgundy, the Loire Valley produces some lovely, affordable wines. Both red and white.

We visited Vouvray twice for “tastings”.

“Tastings” is code for “they give you enough wine to get you well on your way.”

That’s what I’m takin’ about!  A “tasting” in Burgundy.

We stayed at an AirB&B in Amboise during our visit to the Loire Valley. Our host was the fabulous Christine who spoke wonderful English. Here is the link to our room. Everything in Amboise was walkable from her home and she served a uber-yummy breakfast in the morning with home-made crepes and preserves. It was a great value for the money.

We got very, very serious about wine after we left the Loire. We spent 3 days in Burgundy and then 2 days in the Champagne region.

More tastings! AGMA loved me my “tastings”!

Burgundy was really interesting if you are a oenophilia. Yeah, I said it. Oenophilia.

It was fascinating learning about all of the wine “rules” there. And there are a lot of rules. Which is why wines from this area are $$. Actually, they are $$$. And some are even $$$$.

Hubs is a pretty steady guy and doesn’t get excited by much. But you should have seen him when we drove through the unassuming looking Vosne-Romanee vineyards. He was as excited as tRump with a bag of Cheetos in a spray tan booth watching Fox and Friends.

The vineyards looked like the vineyards we saw around Saint Emilion and the Medoc and in other areas of Burgundy.

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Evidently they’re not.

The 6 Grand Cru vineyards in this area only total a mere 67 acres. But most of the bottles of wine produced from these vineyards are all pre-sold starting at $1000 and up. Depending on the location of the vineyard, the year, the producer and the harvest “rules”, prices can go up into the 10’s of thousands.

In case you’re wondering, AGMA did not bring a bottle of this particular wine home.

Burgundy was actually kind of a pricey area. For us, it was real pricey. Hubs somehow lost his wallet (the jury is still out on how it happened…) He was panicked. Naturally.

But of course AGMA had my wits about me. I went to the TI (Tourist Information Office) across the street from the last place he had it, and we were in luck.

Sort of.

Yes, they had his wallet. Yes, it had all his credit cards and ID and other cards in it.

No, there wasn’t any money in it. To the tune of about $300.

Ouch.

Having learned my lesson last summer in stealth purse protection when my purse got stolen in Barcelona (it was recovered in tact from the hapless lady thieves), I would say Hubs learned his lesson in stealth wallet protection. An expensive lesson.

Ouch.

In Burgundy, we stayed in Beaune which was brilliant. Our hotel, the Brit Hotel Au Grand Saint Jean, was a great value (for the area) in a fabulous location. Easy walking distance to all of Beaune and some fabulous restaurants.

After Burgundy, we drove north. Our next stop was Reims.

Finally, AGMA was headed to the promise land…

OMG – CHAMPAGNE!!

But this post is getting too long and I have a lot to say about our last 4 days in France, sooooo…..

Meet me here next week.

Same time, same place.

 

 

 

Fat, happy cows

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Moo

AGMA’s back in the land of orange, spray tan insanity!  I hope I didn’t miss too many of the Tweeter-in-Chief’s pearls of monosyllabic feculence…

I started this post nearly two weeks ago during our trip and felt certain that I would finish it before we came home.

Clearly, that didn’t happen.  But I kinda liked it so I finished it.  Here goes:

September 16, 2017

We just left Brittany.

We discovered there are very fat, happy cows in Brittany.  And fat, happy cows make delicious, creamy milk that’s made into “to die for” butter.

Demi sal (partially salted) please.

And AGMA ate mass quantities of this delictable Breton butter during our 6 days in a beautifully renovated 17th century Breton farmhouse outside of the charming “Petite Town of Character” (seriously) Jugon-les-Lacs.

Some backstory as to why we were in a 17th century farmhouse in Brittany…

Hubs was inspired last year on our short visit to Provence to learn French.  He actually has a history of living in France.  His dad was in the army and was stationed there twice while Hubs was growing up.  I guess he picked up some French then, but put it down pretty quickly.

A determined Hubs is an obsessive-compulsive Hubs.

He’s spent the last 9 months trying to become proficient in French.  He reached the highest level on the Duolingo app in French.  He’s now going backwards (from French to English.)

Huh?

He’s been seeing a French instructor once a week in Atlanta for about 6 months.  And for the last 3 months, he’s been Skyping with two French instructors – one in Belgium and one in South Africa.  He’s just recently discovered Edith Piaf.  Nevermind that AGMA told him about the wonderful Edith years ago…  And he watches French cartoons and sitcoms on YouTube.  And listens to Zaz.

He was ready for the big time.  French immersion.  In France.

Turns out, there are quite a few folks in France who want to have people come and stay in their homes to learn French.  For a price.

Who knew?

Next, we had to decide who and where.  Good teachers (based on previous student reviews and bios) are all over the country, but we wanted to go somewhere we’d never been before.  AGMA wanted to go east towards the French Alps, but that teacher was booked.  It got narrowed down to a teacher in Brittany and one north of Paris.

Brittany won.

Best.decision.ever.

The history of Brittany (Bretagne in French) in  is fascinating.  It’s more Celtic than French.  They call Great Britain “grande Bretagne” and Brittany “petite Bretagne”.   It was an autonomous region with ties to Great Britian for centuries until it finally became part of France in 1532.

The Breton language is (according to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia) “one of six extant Celtic languages.”  And, evidently, there are quite a few redheads in Brittany.

The countryside is spectacular.

No vineyards here.  They grow corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  To feed those fat, happy cows. To make that incredible butter.

That makes AGMA so happy.

The bits of the north coast we saw were spectacular.  Wild and rocky.  Cliffs and crashing waves.

With very, very few tourists.  We liked that.

Hub’s lessons were in the morning, but we managed to see a lot on our free afternoons.

The half-timbered houses of the medieval town of Dinan,

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the port of St-Malo with it’s ancient walls,

 

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the world famous oysters at Cancale,

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the romantic ruins of the Abbaye de Beauport,

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the fortress of Fort la Latte on the sea,

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the windy, rugged Cap Frehel,

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the very weird Danse Macbre in the Chapelle de Kermaria an Iskuit,

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the charming island of Ile-de-Brehat,

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and the iconic Mont St Michel.

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We loved it!

Our hosts were a lovely English couple who lived their dream by moving to France in 2002 and refurbishing an old French farmhouse into a Chambre d’hote (bed and breakfast to you and I.)

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The lovely La Croix Julot

Both Suzanne – Hub’s tutor – and Peter are teachers.  Suzanne teaches French to non-French types and English to French types.  She also speaks German and a bit of Spanish. Peter is an accomplished musician and teaches music – mostly piano.

Aside from their teaching skills, Suzanne is an incredible gardener.  Much of the food we ate came directly from her garden.  Including the beautiful preserves we had at breakfast everyday on our bagettes and crossiants.  And Peter is an accomplished cook – his lunches were 3 course gourmet wonders.

And butter.  We had lots and lots of butter!  They bought that at a store.

Honestly, it was a bit embarrassing how much butter I put on the fresh baguettes that we had for both breakfast and lunch.  Everyday. But oh so delicious…

It really kick-started the weight gain which gained momentum everyday for the entire 23 days we were in France.

But what the hell…  You can’t take it with you.

The butter, I mean.

Viva la France!

P.S. Peter and Suzanne’s farmhouse is called La Croix Julot.  En suite bed and breakfast is about 50 Euro a night.  You can read the Trip Advisor reviews here.  Hubs and AGMA highly recommend it!